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My challenge this week is to review one of the two major football game releases without mentioning the other game.
And it won’t be easy. For years now, the merits of PES (Pro Evolution Soccer) have been discussed relative to, um, that other game. You know the one.
That always feels a bit of a shame — PES has been a heck of a game in its own right for an awfully long time — so let me see if I can just concentrate on what makes it good, and where it falls short.
There has, for the longest time, been a feeling that PES is something of a game of two halves. Its gameplay, or its pure football-ness, has been considered superior to the other game, but that has been let down by clunky menus and awkward accessibility and a crippling lack of real-life teams, stadiums and competition.
And, yep, nothing much has changed.
Gameplay is mostly brilliant. Honestly, there are long spells in game when it just a pure pleasure to play.
Football involves elements such as shooting and tackling and so on, but for me, a football game comes down to how it feels to simply pass the ball. And friends, PES 2019 knocks this out of the park. The ball feels alive, and the players feel so natural when they stroke it around. There is so much variety in the way the ball bounces and skids and curves, and you always feel you are rewarded by being patient and looking for the right pass.
The AI seems reasonably intelligent, so your computercontrolled team-mates are more often than not doing sensible things, and the game flows nicely and never gets humdrum.
Player likenesses — something the other game now focuses on in a major way — are pretty good, and the licensed stadiums (including my beloved Anfield) are spectacular.
In terms of game modes, the highlight is undoubtedly Master League, which hasn’t changed much and is still a bit rough around the edges, but offers a worthy career mode.
Sadly, the old frustrations remain.
PES only has a few officially licensed leagues, so unless you own a PS4 and know your way around uploading option files, you are stuck with mainly generic names for the Premier League and others, and it is kind of deflating not to get all the authenticity the other game offers. Losing the Champions League to the other game was also a massive blow for Konami.
And those menus, sheesh. Still ugly, still super awkward to work on team sheets, still lots of confusing layouts that lead you nowhere.
Perhaps the biggest issue of all is that My Club is really a pale imitation of Ultimate Team, the other game’s team-building fantasy game that has become a juggernaut. It just doesn’t have anywhere near the same variety of challenges and constant upgrading, and has almost bored me after just a couple of weeks.
A confession: I am a firm devotee of the other game, and will pour hundreds of hours into it.
But you should try PES 2019 and see if it is more to your taste. If the main thing you want is a game that recreates that pure feeling of caressing a football, it’s the one for you.
For: PS4, Xbox One, PC.
Rating: (PG) ★★★★ ★